One of the largest oil producers in the world, Nigeria exports 1.1 million barrels of petroleum a day to the United States. The continuing BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has refocused attention on the vast Niger Delta, home to thousands of oil and gas installations and an array of militant groups waging armed struggle against Western oil companies, a kleptocratic state and ruthless military forces. More than 5,000 miles from U.S. shores, the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez’s worth of oil has reportedly poured into the lush delta every year for the last 50 years.
The following material is from Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta. Featuring images by world-renowned photojournalist Ed Kashi and text by University of California at Berkeley Professor Michael Watts, this book traces the history of forces involved in oil extraction and the resulting environmental degradation and community conflicts that have plagued the delta region.
The complexity, diversity and magnificence of the Niger Delta is best appreciated from the air: a massive wedge of green, cross-cut by a bewildering maze of channels, creeks, tributaries, estuaries and islands. It is a vast sediment pile laid down over 60 million years, stretching over 28,000 square miles and protruding 150 miles into the Atlantic Ocean along the West African littoral. It is one of the world’s largest deltas, comparable in grandeur and scale to the Mississippi, the Ganges and the Mekong.
Occupying 12 percent of Nigeria’s territory, the delta is home to an estimated 28 million people, overwhelmingly poor. The core states — Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta and Akwa Ibom — account for half of the regional population and for more than three-quarters of onshore oil production. Cities like Warri, Port Harcourt, Sapele and Ughelli have developed on islands of drier terrain at the heads of navigable estuaries, but in general the population is predominantly rural.